All That Jazz: Elly’s Top 10 Picks for Ottawa Jazz Festival

By Elly Laberge — Mon, 15/06/2015 - 13:46

The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, a household name among the National Capital Region's music scene, is back once again and this year, the action is happening from June 20 to July 1. The 35th edition of this annual gathering of music enthusiasts will once again be held at Confederation Park as well as the National Arts Centre and a few other near-by locations. This year’s format will be similar to last year’s, complete with different series geared to please various crowds. There sure are lots of talented artists to check out over the next two weeks, so to help guide your choices, I've put together my top 10 list of must-see bands that should be included on your list of performances to check out. Here are my picks in no particular order:

The Roots 

The Roots is certainly a must-see when it comes to headlining performances at this year's Jazz Festival. Their last stop in Ottawa goes back to the 2011 Bluesfest, and it was, from what I can remember, all around excellent and very entertaining. When the Grammy-Award winning hip-hop group is on stage, they mean business and deliver the goods. The true fans won't want to miss Questlove's 3-hour DJ set at Ritual later on that same night. Catch the Roots on Saturday, June 20 at 9pm on the Main Stage at Confederation Park.     

Timber Timbre 

Ontario psych folk/blues 4-piece Timber Timbre is just one of those bands whose sound and aesthetics are so captivating, they pull you right in. The group members are tight and sound on point and it's no surprise their last album Hot Dreams was shortlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. It'll be interesting to see the band perform on an outdoor stage in a festival setting. Timber Timbre is scheduled to give a live set on June 21 at 10:30 pm at the Laurier Avenue Music Stage.  

Ikebe Shakedown 

At last year's House of PainT festival, Brooklyn-based band Ikebe Shakedown was tasked with the mission to create and premiere a 12-minute commissioned piece that they performed live as the soundtrack to the final round of breakdance battles and they certainly delivered. The 7-piece afro/funk/soul/disco outfit gave an energetic and original set that offered the perfect backdrop for street dancers, urban music enthusiasts and festival-goers alike. Their performance will not disappoint! Ikebe Shakedown performs June 25 at 10:30 pm on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage.  

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy are back in the National Capital once again after having performed at the last year’s Ottawa JazzFest as part of the After Dark Series. Last year, the New-York based collective attracted a large audience of fans under the Laurier Street tent and it's safe to say that this year, given their promotion to the Main Stage, the instrumental modern jazz, funk and R&B group is sure to give another high-energy performance that's well worth checking out. Their undeniable synergy can easily be felt live and no one can resist dancing to their feel-good rhythms. Catch Snarky Puppy on the Main Stage in Confederation Park on Saturday, June 27 starting at 8:30 pm. 


Montreal orchestral indie pop band Groenland have been on my radar ever since I heard their beautiful track Immune and saw them live at Mavericks back in July 2013. Comprised of six musicians who play a wide range of instruments, from the cello to the ukulele to the melodica, the ensemble creates music that is both undeniably charming and uplifting. The group has a refreshing sound and a great stage presence and the 3 times I was able to see them, the musicians have projected a fun contagious energy that quickly spread throughout the crowd. The members share a strong group synergy that translates beautifully on stage and this makes for a solid performance. Whether you know them or not, they're definitely a group to check out on Saturday, June 27 at 10:30 pm on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage. 

Pink Martini

After 18+ years, Pink Martini shows no signs of slowing down. The Portland collective made up of 13 musicians and known as the "little orchestra" will be making its return to Ottawa after a 4-year absence. The jazz/latin/classical fusion group, that has a significant following of fans in the National Capital Region, actually performed as part of the Ottawa JazzFest the last time they were in town, but unfortunately the lead singer didn't perform at the time and was replaced by a back-up as she was undergoing surgery for her vocal chords. It'll be nice to see the lead singer this time around and hopefully she'll sound as smooth as ever. Pink Martini takes the stage Monday, June 29 at 8:30 pm.   

Tin Men and the Telephone 

Tin Men & the Telephone, a young trio from Amsterdam which offers an unconventional take on modern jazz music, is making a return to the Ottawa JazzFest to offer their second performance in our city. The group, comprised of pianist Tony Roe, bassist Lucas Dols and drummer Bobby Petrov is clearly on a mission to please and surprise. Last time they were in town, the trio presented an original and creative audio-visual experience, performing original compositions from their debut album titled Moetjenou?!. Their unique approach to live music, interspersed with sounds from everyday life incorporates a good dose of humour mixed with a bit of improv. They're fun, unpredictable and equally skilled musicians and you should definitely check them out on the NAC's Fourth Stage on June 30 at 6:30 pm.

Tanya Tagaq 

Last year, Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagaq won the Polaris Prize for her album Animism and gave a stunning performance that blew everyone away and went beyond what anyone had ever seen before. It surprised many and sent out a strong message that speaks volumes about the state of Aboriginal music and the momentum it is gaining in the Canadian music scene. It's safe to say this is going to be a memorable performance, something to experience at least once in person. Tagaq is set to perform on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage on June 30 at 7:30 pm.   

Zaki Ibrahim 

Zaki Ibrahim is a South African-Canadian singer-songwriter born in B.C. who I had the opportunity to see live in Ottawa as part of the House of PainT festival. The soulful singer's first full-length album Every Opposite was shortlisted for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize and although she hasn't released any new material since, her current repertoire is sufficient to provide a complete live set. Ibrahim projects a captivating R&B sound and oozes charisma. When she last performed in the area, she was accompanied by two vocalists and the show's mise-en-scène included intriguing choreographed sequences that kept the audience's attention on her at all times. Now that she's residing in Cape Town, she certainly won't be performing in the area as often, so don't miss this opportunity to see her live for free on July 1 at 5pm on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage. 

The Mackenzie Rhythm Section 

Ottawa's own Mackenzie Rhythm Section is performing this year as part of the Jazz at Noon series, happening on the Laurier Avenue stage. The local funk, soul and rock n’ roll band who’s gaining a reputation for giving solid live shows, is set to perform songs off of its upcoming EP Brand New Dances and is bound to get you moving in the process. This show is basically a guaranteed good time and a great way to support local talent. To top it off, it's probably the best Ottawa-based band featured on the festival's bill so definitely worth your while if you can make it at lunchtime.

There you have it, folks! My top picks for this year’s Ottawa Jazz Festival. Check out Couch Assassin’s Take 5 here. For more details on programming or tickets, visit the Ottawa Jazz Festival website

Who are you excited to see this year at JazzFest?

Check out Elly's blog Eventful Capital here.

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